SEWARD — Doug Wight popped up from his camp chair to greet the next wave of visitors.
Wight’s residence, which sits under the shadow of Mount Marathon, the nearly 5,000-foot peak that looms above town, has become an unofficial hub for dozens of racers, adventurers, friends and family.
Wight, a retired lawyer, spends most of his time at his home in Florida. But he cherishes his time each year in Alaska, where he specializes in bringing people together, especially over the time when Seward hosts the historic mountain race.
“I’m very gregarious around here, probably much more so than I am when I’m in Florida,” he said. “And I don’t know why it is. I guess it’s just so much easier to meet interesting people with a great story. Almost everybody here has one.”
From first-time competitors to race legends like Brian “Birdman” Stoecker, people drop by, camp in the yard or stay at Wight’s house, which is filled with local art, history and various pieces of Alaskana.
Wight even strikes up longterm friendships with astray hikers who stumble across his place trying to find the nearby but elusive hidden Bear Mountain trailhead.
Rebecca Boudreaux met Wight in a trail running group in Florida. She relocated to Colorado but kept up with Wight on Facebook. While she had planned a trip to Alaska this summer, she hadn’t planned to run the race.
But her partner Don Murray surprised her by bidding on one of the final spots in the race at auction on Sunday night. And on Monday afternoon, up the mountain she went.
“It was absolutely epic,” she said. “It was so stunning. Probably one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever done. Super tough. I came down with no blood, so I figured that was a win. But yeah, I absolutely loved it. By far the hardest 5K I’ve ever done.”
Verena Gill is a fisheries scientist in Anchorage who has been traveling to Seward to run the race for a decade.
She met Wight a handful of years ago during an especially hot race. Wight was operating his famed spray station just a few blocks from the end of the chute coming off the mountain, where he passes out water and fires his hose at runners.
“He’s the nexus of it all,” she said of Wight. “When I come down to train, I come here. You know, my kids know him and it’s like all from the spray station. I think he reached out to me on Facebook was like, ‘Hey, I saw you go through the spray station.’ He got a hold of me and then we’ve been friends.”
After a recent bike accident, Gill wasn’t as competitive in 2022 as she’s been in past years. But it doesn’t matter, she said, the gathering and camaraderie has superseded the emphasis on contending for a top time.
“It’s like a family thing,” Gill said. “My 15 year old daughter (Brianna), she’s in the van recovering. Juniper, my little one, she’s gonna do it next year. For actually 12 years I’ve have been coming down here but I had to skip for pregnancy.”
Wight’s family got involved this year. His grandson Wyatt Barlow ran the junior race in the 7-11 year old group. He plans to be back next year after completing the mountain portion with a signature Spiderman leap at the bottom of the chute.
“I didn’t think my calves were going to hurt that much,” he admitted in giving a post-race diagnosis.
After taking top honors the 50-59 year old age group for the second straight year on Monday, Eagle River resident Jennifer Sandvik along with family and friends joined the gathering at Wight’s.
Sandvik’s race was her 22nd and she’s become increasingly fast on the run in recent years, shaving over nine minutes off her previous best time last year in notching a 22nd place overall.
The day was a culmination of a summer of being out with friends and family this summer for Sandvik, whose two daughters have run the race.
“We’ve taken our kids on hikes, we’ve done part of (Crow Pass) and Archangel Valley and had meals and cookies,” she said. “We’ve had great experiences and had our kids have had a lot of fun together. They’re just really great fun and tonight we were like ‘Let’s go out and have some fun.’ ”
Wight hasn’t run since 2017, citing an ongoing knee ailment. But he plans on being back on the mountain soon — potentially in 2023.
“It’s such a challenge, there’s so much history to it,” he said. “There’s nothing like it anywhere. It’s straight up, it’s straight down. Risk follows you at every turn.”